During a Samajwadi Party convention in Agra in 2011, Ramgopal Yadav announced that Gayatri Prasad Prajapati of Amethi had donated Rs 25 lakh to the party. As Prajapati touched Mulayam Singh Yadav’s feet and stepped down from the stage, leaders thought no more of him than as a dabbler in politics — he had been contesting elections unsuccessfully since 1993 — and guessed he must have got newly rich.
Over the four years that followed, Prajapati would show he was not in politics just to dabble. He would win power and position, rising progressively in the council of ministers, and complete his graduation to full-time politics with his share of controversy, including corruption allegations. He is among those against whom activist couple Amitabh and Nutan Thakur have made corruption allegations, Nutan having filed a complaint with the Uttar Pradesh Lokayukta. It is one of five cases by various persons, all of them withdrawn or quashed.
Some in the party insist he has always been wealthy. “I have known him for two decades as well-to-do. He had a jeep even in the 1990s,” said Chote Lal Yadav, the SP’s Amethi president.
Even in 2012, few had though much of Prajapati when the SP declared him its candidate from Amethi, then held by Amita Singh, wife of current Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh. Prajapati had lost from Amethi in 1993, 1996 and 2002, the first time as a Bahujan Kranti Dal candidate when he polled only 1,526 votes. The 2012 ticket was perceived as yet another walkover to the Congress, but Prajapati surprised possibly his own party by defeating Amita Singh.
This was when the rise began, though the SP had elevated him to a position in one of its frontal organisations even after he had lost in 2002. In 2012, he again surprised his party, just back in power, by getting a public relations company to send personal invitations to journalists to a press conference at a luxury hotel. Not even the top SP leadership, let alone a first-time MLA, had ever hired a PR agency for a press meet, which were traditionally held at the party office.
Prajapati asked the PR agency to ensure that the photographers outnumbered the reporters. Senior SP leader Ram Asrey Vishwakarma, now chairman of the state Backward Classes Commission, was surprised that the photographers took less notice of him than of Prajapati, who announced that day that he would contest against Rahul Gandhi from Amethi Lok Sabha seat.
Eventually, the SP stayed true to its tradition of not fielding candidates against Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. But Prajapati’s announcement gave fuel to talk about his growing closeness with Mulayam Singh Yadav. He grew to new heights between February 2013 and January 2014, a period during which Akhilesh Yadav expanded his ministry three times with Prajapati taking oath on each occasion. Prajapati began as minister of state for irrigation in February 2013, that in itself a move that surprised many, but was overshadowed by cabinet minister Shivpal Yadav’s towering stature. He was moved to the lucrative berth of mining, directly under Akhilesh who handled that portfolio. In July 2013, Akhilesh elevated Prajapati to MoS (independent charge). In January 2014, he made him cabinet minister.
“No one else has ever taken oath three times in the same ministry,” said one minister. “His phenomenal rise in the party is attracting many detractors. Now even senior leaders of our party whisper into his ear during meetings, showing how close he has become to them.”
A measure of the growth in stature is the fact that even Ramgopal Yadav, who often turns down requests by SP leaders to meet him during his frequent visits to Lucknow, makes it a point to accommodate Prajapati. The party chose Prajapati to organise a convention of the 17 most backward castes, including the Prajapati caste. For the first time, the convention was marked with giant LED screens, installed even on the road outside the party office. Though it was raining, Prajapati mustered a crowd large enough to fill the office lawns and delivered for the first time the line that would become the hallmark of his speeches. “Ay mere pichdonc gareebon, kamzoro, mazdooron, utho, jago, waqt aa gaya hai,” he said, in a single breath.
Mulayam provided Prajapati a helicopter to campaign during the Lok Sabha polls. Prajapati was made a face of MBCs as he took out a rath yatra to mobilise these 17 castes. Though the SP received its worst drubbing ever, it did not affect his clout with Mulayam. He remains the party’s star campaigner.
Although five cases of corruption were filed against him with the Lokayukta, three of the complainants have since withdrawn their allegations. Lokayukta Justice (retd) N K Mehrotra had summoned several people accused of having acquired benaami properties on behalf of Prajapati; eight of them claimed they had bought the properties with their own money.
An arts graduate from Ram Manohar Lohia Awadh University, Faizabad, Prajapati has declared his profession as buying and selling properties. In 2012, his declared immovable assets were worth Rs 1.21 crore and movable assets Rs 50.88 lakh. His annual income in 2009-10 was Rs 3.71 lakh.